The best beaches of Makapu‘u and Waimanalo are all a bit different, some with the most breathtaking scenery, others with dozens of tide pools to explore, or great opportunities for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. There’s even beach-side camping.
Makapu‘u Beach Park
Makapu‘u Point marks the arid southeast tip of O‘ahu. Just to the north of the formidable headland, you’ll find Makapu‘u Beach Park, a beautiful crescent of white sand set against the deep blue ocean and dry, rugged cliffs. The scenery at Makapu‘u is breathtaking, complete with Rabbit Island and Black Rock, two seabird sanctuaries, protruding from deep water just offshore. Makapu‘u is also known for its pounding shorebreak, alluring to bodyboarders, bodysurfers, and locals and visitors alike.
Because of the wave action, there are strong currents, and swimming should be done with caution. Check with the lifeguard for current ocean conditions. On days when the surf is flat and the wind is light, the water becomes very clear. Snorkeling is best at the south end of the beach, where the rocks and cliff begin. There are restrooms and showers, but parking is very limited, so it’s best to get there early. There is a small paved parking lot for the beach park, another dirt lot that is severely rutted and only safe for four-wheel-drive vehicles, or you can park up on the highway in the designated lookout area and walk down to the beach.
On the north side of the beach park are the Makapu‘u Tidepools. The coast is fringed with black lava, creating some wonderful tidepools to explore. Be aware that the surf can wash up onto the tidepools, so its best explore the area when the surf is small to flat. To get to the tidepools, you can walk up the coast on dirt paths from Makapu‘u Beach Park and meander across the lava as far as you’d like to go, or you can park right at the tidepools. Coming from Koko Head, turn just past Sea Life Park into the oceanside parking area.
Kaupo Beach Park
Just on the other side of the Makapu‘u Tidepools you’ll come to Kaupo Beach Park, a great beach for snorkeling, playing on the sand, fishing or learning to surf, with all the same great views as Makapu‘u. Here, the lava opens up to offer sandy beaches among the rocks and coastal shrubs. It has character, is safe for kids, and is a favorite for local families on the weekends. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from the road and have a dip or bite to eat while enjoying the scenery. As the beach arcs north toward the Makai Research Pier, there are small, gentle waves that break just off the shore. The parking lot for Kaupo Beach Park is at the same turn as the Makapu‘u Tidepools, just stay to the left. There is also roadside parking for several vehicles right in front of where the waves break, or you can park down by the research pier. There are restroom and shower facilities in the beach park parking lot.
Kaiona Beach Park
About a mile north of the research pier on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo is a small grassy park with restrooms and showers and a narrow but beautiful beach. Kaiona Beach Park is a favorite area for local families, with shallow, clean, and clear water great for swimming and snorkeling. The ocean floor, a combination of white sand and reef, gives the water a magnificent azure color. Just to the south of the beach access is Pahonu Pond, an ancient Hawaiian turtle pond. Today, it’s perfect for the youngest of kids to get comfortable in a calm and sheltered setting. The beach is also called Shriners by the locals after the Shriners Beach Club at the water’s edge. The free parking lot is small and fills up quickly. Use caution if you park along the road. The restroom at the beach park closes 7pm-7am daily.
Waimanalo Beach Park
Right in the heart of Waimanalo town, Waimanalo Beach Park offers the same fine white sand, great snorkeling, swimming, and azure water as all along the Waimanalo coast. The beach park has free parking, showers, restrooms, and a grassy camping area, which is predominantly used by the homeless. While lean-tos and laundry lines don’t sound like paradise, the camping area is just a small portion of the three-mile beach, one of the longest on O‘ahu. The beach is also lined with ironwood trees, so it’s easy to duck into the shade if the sun becomes too intense. Mostly uncrowded during the week, the beach shows a different face during the weekends as families post up, fish, relax, and have a good time. It can get pretty rowdy. The beach park is closed 9:30pm-7am daily.
Bellows Beach Park
At the north end of Waimanalo town, Bellow Air Force Station harbors Bellows Beach Park. It’s open to the public every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Here you’ll find more of Waimanalo’s signature white sand, ironwood-lined beaches. Camping complete with facilities is also available at Bellows by permit. Take the well-marked Bellows AFB turnoff from Kalanianaole Highway and follow the road to the beach, where parking is free.